Challenger Leads Indonesia Elections

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A former general who has pledged to fight terror and fix the economy was headed for a landslide win over incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia's landmark elections Monday, according a nationwide sampling of votes.

Challenger Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was expected to win 62 percent of the votes compared to 38 percent for Megawati in the runoff election, according to the survey conducted by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, the international arm of the U.S. Democratic Party.

Monday's voting was the second round in Indonesia's first-ever direct presidential elections, and a key step in the turbulent transition to democracy in the world's most populous Muslim nation since the downfall of former dictator Suharto in 1998.

Yudhoyono declined to declare victory, but told reporters: "I am grateful to God, and thankful to the people of Indonesia who have given me that kind of support.

"I am thankful to the Megawati government for establishing this kind of democracy," he added.

"I will now consolidate [my supporters] and think about the steps I can take to reconcile my camp with the Megawati camp."

The "Quick Count" system employed by the National Democratic Institute predicts the results of national elections by counting about half a million votes cast from 2,500 selected voting stations.

Similar polls by the NDI have accurately predicted results in dozens of elections around the world, including Indonesia's parliamentary elections in April and its first round of presidential elections in July.

"We are facing a new era, the next president is Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by quite a wide margin," Rizal Mallarangeng, from the NDI's local partner, the Institute for Social and Economic Research, Education and Information, told Metro TV.

Official returns released by the General Election Commission also showed Yudhoyono taking a significant lead, winning 58.6 percent of the first 7.4 million ballots counted. Megawati received 41.3 percent, the commission said.

More than 140,000 police officers were deployed across the country amid warnings that the al-Qaida linked militants blamed for a deadly Sept. 9 suicide bombing at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta were planning more attacks.

"I voted for Yudhoyono because I think he is smart and good-looking," said Siti Komariah, a 53-year-old housewife at a polling booth in West Jakarta.

"I want the country to be safer, I want prices to be lower and I want everyone to have the opportunity to go to school."

As of early afternoon Monday, when voting booths closed, there were no reports of election-related violence. The final official tally will not be announced for two weeks.

Suharto, 83, voted near his home in central Jakarta. The former dictator, who has avoided trials for corruption because of alleged ill health, looked frail but healthy. He said nothing to reporters.

Yudhoyono, who served as Megawati's security minister before resigning in March to run in the elections, was leading by about 20 percentage points in opinion polls going into the elections.

The U.S.-educated general predicted he would garner up to 60 percent of the ballots as he voted with his wife.

Hundreds of supporters shouted "Long live the new president!" as he left the booth.